New Delhi: The Congress lost its last bastion in the northeast, Mizoram, to Mizo National Front on Tuesday while the Bharatiya Janata Party made large strides and won its first ever seat in the state.
In the last two years, the Congress has faced defeat in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura to BJP and its allies. But in Mizoram, the grand old party lost out to MNF, which is an NDA constituent, but fought this election on its own.
The state has seen either MNF or Congress holding power since 1987. In 2013 polls, the Congress had swept the state winning 34 out of 40 seats.
According to the most recent available figures from the Election Commission, the MNF was either winning or leading at 25 seats, with the Congress winning only six. The BJP won its first seat at Tuichawng with its candidate BD Chakma, but sources said it would make every effort to form an alliance with the MNF in the state to complete its dominance.
The rise in the BJP vote share in this state will be a shot in the arm for the party given that it is looking to pick up Lok Sabha seats in the northeast to make up for any shortfall it may face in national polls next year in other parts of the country.
The northeast is seen as crucial to the BJP’s strategy to ensure a majority for it in the Lok Sabha given that there are at least 20 seats to be picked up here with Assam accounting for 14.
The run-up to the polls had been fraught, with the recommendation by the state’s chief electoral officer to transfer a Mizo bureaucrat out of Mizoram following allegations of interference – the incident and the consequent setting the tone for a bitterly contested elections.
The challenge for the Congress was always going to be to try and counter the 10 years of anti-incumbency, particularly in the Mizo-majority areas where the MNF had steadily been gaining strength.
Crumbling infrastructure and politics of identity had been key in the MNF's success, particularly the issue of banning alcohol. The state’s influential groups – the church bodies and other pressure groups – have also been opposed to the sale of liquor in the state. The Congress and the BJP tread a cautious middle ground regarding the issue.
Five-time Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lal Thanhawla, who contested from Champhai South and Serchhip, lost both the seats he contested from. While he lost Champhai to Mizo National Front's (MNF) TJ Lalnuntluanga, Serchhip was snatched by Zoram People's Movement's (ZPM) chief ministerial candidate Lalduhoma.
The ZPM is a seven-party electoral alliance between retired priests, bureaucrats and journalists, and the new outfit is likely to be key in the state. Lalduhoma is an IPS officer-turned-politician and has also served in the security of former PM Indira Gandhi. More recently, the ZPM has been a partner of the ruling NDA in the Centre.
For BJP, the key take away for the state polls has to be its increased vote share. As per the Election Commission, it increased to 7.9 % up from 0.37% it had in 2013.
The BJP had relied heavily on the Chakma vote - a minority group living in the margins of society in Mizoram who have periodically alleged persecution of Mizo organisations.
The Tuichawng seat has a dominant Chakma community and it also saw home minister Rajnath Singh address a rally in the centre of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC).
In 2005, the current BJP chief, AB Chakma quit the party and joined the Mizo National Front and said “there was no hope for the BJP”.
In 2016, the party entered the state’s politics for the first time, entering the Chakma Autonomous Council bolls, after a by election. In 2018, it won 5 of the 20 seats in the general election to the council.